Girly Air Force
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Girly Air Force ?
The style and conceit of Girly Air Force can make it easy for me to overestimate the show's ambitions. It may be a very particular otaku fantasy about being a fighter-jet pilot where the jet is also a cute girl you can smooch, but it also grapples with the morality of war and what happens when we assign agency to its weaponry. It's not like the show consciously goes to that well often, but it's definitely subtext that results from its chosen premise. That can make it hard to approach the characters and story critically, without over-analyzing things.
Take our new character, Phantom. I talked last week about how I found her to be the most interesting plane-sona so far in spite of (and to some degree because of) her more acerbic personality. This episode dives right into analyzing that aspect of her, with Yashiodori explaining to Kei that her older-model status has given Phantom a long-running drive to eradicate the Xi and protect humanity as a species, not just individual human lives. That's an interesting angle compared to Gripen's simple desire to prove herself useful or Eagle just wanting to show off.
But then the expansion we get on Phantom later in the episode pushes her even further from conventional waifu material. She turns out to have one hell of a system of moral relativism, happily angling for plans of self-preservation at the potential expense of an entire nation, just because it fulfills her need to stay alive and keep fighting her enemy. Is Girly Air Force actually putting forth a commentary on the moral neutrality of deadly weapons? It feels more like a hardened character flaw assigned to this one entity as part of the plot than any serious theme of the show. Our viewpoint character Kei believes that any life that can be saved is one that matters, so we're prompted to agree with him.
But then that story-driving question of teamwork also lends itself to pondering the series' perspective. It's not just the issue that the personalities of the three plane-girls clash, it's that someone like Phantom has fundamentally different ethics and methods that make her incompatible for teamwork with the more straightforward Gripen and Eagle. It's a toxic arrangement that can't be overcome merely by avoiding contact with her, as Yashiodori suggests like you would for a feud with an office co-worker. The story might seem to be making a point about how real-world military vehicles must be utilized together regardless of ‘differences’, but those personality issues wouldn't really be applicable to our own multi-million-dollar murder machines, and it's not like jet fighters typically function in trios of different nationalities and models anyway. So is Girly Air Force instead offering commentary on multiculturalism, how humans necessarily united against a common foe might have to work together? I mean, it probably isn't that deep; this is merely a character hurdle for the other cast members to overcome to bring Phantom into their fold.
Thankfully, accidental armament analysis isn't all this episode has going for it, sparing me some moments to just relax and enjoy the basic entertainment. Amidst all the training and Top-Gun-informed rivalries, I'd almost forgotten there was a serious overarching plot about protecting humanity from bad guys, so the mission to attack one of their bases was an engaging surprise. It definitely makes for a more interesting setup than the ‘some Xi fighters have appeared and you have to go shoot them down’ pattern of the series thus far. I'm almost as interested in the show revealing more about the nature of the Xi as I am diving into the legal personhood of planes or the morality of military action. All this and an impressive dogfighting scene featuring all three planes? This show really does have everything!
Again, it's hard to say how much of this episode's amusing thematic density was intentional versus how much was an accident of real-world parallels clashing with convenient anime tropes. When the dialogue in the series directly speaks to the themes of clashing morality, my first instinct is to accuse it of overreaching with its philosophy. But by accident or design, there was still more to chew on in this episode than I'd come to expect from Girly Air Force in the past. So Phantom is even less ‘likable’ than she was before, but I get the feeling she's on-track for redemptive development, and Kei imitating her cynical tone at the end to provoke her was pretty funny. However, her presence has pushed the show just beyond the bare-bones antics of its first arc, making this the most interesting episode yet.
Girly Air Force is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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